Published 24/05/2016 at 10:33 GMT | Updated 10/06/2016 at 16:58 GMT
The disastrous Fabio Capello era is over and, perhaps, Russia can look forward to a bright future. Capello, a high earner who was never popular, left his position three years early last July and Russia – stodgy for so many years – have certainly looked brighter in the early months under his successor Leonid Slutsky. Few hold out much expectation of a long stay at Euro 2016, particularly after a cruel late injury to key playmaker Alan Dzagoev, but there certainly seems scope for a useful build up to their home World Cup in two years’ time. A squad that may be entirely composed of domestic-based players certainly know each other’s strengths well.
Manchester United's Michael Carrick and Juan Mata with CSKA Moscow's Alan Dzagoev in action
Image credit: Reuters
Can Russia survive without Dzagoev? The CSKA Moscow midfielder's broken foot on the eve of Euro 2016 was the worst possible news. Dzagoev, deployed in a deep playmaking role by Slutsky to brilliant effect, is the heartbeat of this team and it is hard to find much more creative inspiration in this team. Much will now be expected of wide attackers Aleksandr Kokorin and Oleg Shatov, the latter a particularly fine prospect – but the box-to-box midfielder Denis Glushakov, while competent, is no direct replacement for Dzagoev and Russia may now find themselves battling to stay in contention for the last 16.
USER POLL - YOUR PREDICTION
HOW FAR WILL RUSSIA GO AT EURO 2016?
Russia’s core looks solid and there is certainly an energy and directness in wide positions further forwards. The defence and midfield look reasonably served in terms of numbers, at least, despite Dzagoev's absence but the attacking options are a little thin beyond the first choices, particularly if Artyom Dzyuba struggles. Slutsky will need to keep things fairly compact in order to ensure that his centre-backs, who have a combined age of 69, are not exposed for pace in France and the nous of Igor Denisov, who captained the team under Capello, will be required in the defensive midfield role.
THE MANAGER: LEONID SLUTSKY
Russia's coach Leonid Slutski (L) sings the national anthem before the Euro 2016 group G qualifying soccer match against Montenegro
Image credit: Reuters
Russia have been far more creative and mobile under Slutsky, who encourages freedom of expression and has impressed for the last seven years in charge of probable domestic champions CSKA Moscow. He holds the jobs concurrently, something made more straightforward by the fact that hardly any of his talent pool for the national team play abroad. Slutsky was a goalkeeper during a brief playing career that ended at 19 when he fell out of a tree attempting to rescue a cat and injured his knee.
TOP THREE PLAYERS
Oleg Shatov in action
Image credit: AFP
Oleg Shatov: The Zenit winger started out as a futsal player and has brought those skills into the full-sided game. Shatov has developed rapidly over the last few years and now, at 25, is one of the national team's leading lights.
Sergei Ignashevich: The grand old man of an already very experienced Russia team, Ignashevich is still going strong and turns 37 four days after the final of Euro 2016. An intelligent, no-nonsense figure at centre-back, he won his 114th cap in November.
Artyom Dzyuba: An undoubted but previously unsettled talent, the 27-year-old Dzyuba has had a fine season with Zenit St Petersburg and top-scored for Russia with eight goals in qualifying. Prior to September 2014 he had not found the net for the national side but he now looks a fearsome front man.
SOCIAL MEDIA STAR
Where can you see a picture of a key Russia player dressed as Spiderman? On Dzyuba’s Instagram account, naturally, which the striker has consistently updated since the start of the year. Shatov has an active account too, mainly consisting of match action.
JONATHAN WILSON’S KILLER KNOWLEDGE
Slutsky worked wonders to wring qualification out of an ageing Russia side, intriguingly redeploying the 34-year-old Roman Shirokov, once a driver from the back of midfield, to play just behind the striker, Dzyuba. There's also been a recall for Igor Denisov, the hugely gifted bad boy of Russian football who, in Euro 2008, looked like one of the best holding players in Europe.
HOW THEY QUALIFIED
Russia turned things around after the appointment of Slutsky, winning their final four qualifying games and stealing second place in Group G from a Sweden side that had previously held the spot. The 1-0 win over the Swedes in Slutsky’s first qualifier, gained courtesy of a first-half goal by Dzyuba, eventually proved decisive and they took the runners-up spot by two points – albeit eight points behind runaway group winners Austria. A default 3-0 win in Montenegro, awarded last March after crowd trouble in Podgorica with the score goalless midway through the second half, was also of assistance.